Ex-IDF intel chief: New Iran nuke deal will be worse, but worthwhile

Ex-Mossad official: Talks may be tactic for Tehran to buy time to advance its nuclear program.

AN IRANIAN FLAG is pictured near in a missile during a military drill, with the participation of Iran’s air defense units in October.  (West Asia News Agency/Reuters) (photo credit: WEST ASIA NEWS AGENCY/REUTERS)
AN IRANIAN FLAG is pictured near in a missile during a military drill, with the participation of Iran’s air defense units in October. (West Asia News Agency/Reuters)
(photo credit: WEST ASIA NEWS AGENCY/REUTERS)

A new nuclear deal that may emerge between Iran and the world powers in the coming months “will likely be worse” than the 2015 deal, former IDF intelligence chief Aharon Zeevi Farkash told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.

Speaking after Wednesday night’s announcement that nuclear talks between the Islamic Republic and the so-called P5+1 will restart in Vienna on November 29, Zeevi-Farkash asserted that in spite of his pessimism, “even such an inferior deal is better than no deal.”

The former IDF intelligence chief said that even a bad deal would give Israel a chance to delay Tehran’s nuclear threat until at least 2031, while at the moment “Iran is close to the nuclear threshold or already on the nuclear threshold.”

He said he expected a new deal within a period of months, but hoped that the Biden administration and the European thee of France, Germany and the UK would press for a longer and stronger add-on to the deal so that nuclear limits could be extended even beyond 2031.

Further, he said that “Iran understands that the US will agree” that it does not need to backtrack to the 2015 deal limits of using older IR-1 centrifuges, but “will allow advanced centrifuge enrichment at a rate of three, four or even five times faster.”

A number of new generation Iranian centrifuges are seen on display during Iran's National Nuclear Energy Day in Tehran (credit: IRANIAN PRESIDENCY OFFICE/WANA (WEST ASIA NEWS AGENCY)/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)A number of new generation Iranian centrifuges are seen on display during Iran's National Nuclear Energy Day in Tehran (credit: IRANIAN PRESIDENCY OFFICE/WANA (WEST ASIA NEWS AGENCY)/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)

This was a reference to the hundreds of IR-4 and IR-6 advanced centrifuges that Tehran has been operating for most of 2021.

Recognizing that, “at this moment, the US opposes” the Islamic Republic being allowed to possess advanced centrifuges that it was prohibited from maintaining under the JCPOA, he said, “but if you look at Biden’s policies, the issues he has with radical democrats, the [Democrat] loss in the Virginia [gubernatorial election]… Biden wants to finish this deal off,” so it will not be a distraction from the bigger battles he cares more about.

Ideally, he said Jerusalem “will act behind the scenes. It is good that Bennett works behind the scenes – along the lines of the letter I wrote with [former Israel atomic agency committee chairman] Gideon Frank… Israel needs to influence the new deal,” to make it better and Washington certainly does not want to antagonize Israel on this issue.

Zeevi-Farkash was a harsh critic of former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s tactic of regular and open verbal attacks on the Obama and Biden administrations’ Iran policy and said criticism should have been aired privately.

Regarding uranium enrichment, he said, “after Iran passed three tons of enriched uranium stock and the 60% enrichment level – and no one knows what happened since February – I trust the IAEA chief [Rafael Grossi] who said, “there is no state that is as advanced in uranium enrichment as Iran that does not already have military nuclear capability.”

There is some hope now that Iran is returning to the talks and that it has been pressured into doing so by the harsh economic sanctions and coronavirus problems it has endured.

Zeevi-Farkash said that even if “they are a threshold state… it does not mean that Iran has made a decision to cross the threshold. I believe they have not made this decision” and he implied that the Islamic Republic may avoid making such a decision because of the military backlash it could draw.

The former IDF intelligence chief said he agreed with former prime minister Ehud Barak’s warnings that Iran would find it easier to conceal its 60% enriched uranium than its prior lower-enriched stock even if it returns to talks.

Also, he agreed that the possibility of the ayatollahs hiding such highly enriched uranium would make any new break-out calculations from a new deal less reliable, and said that part of the mistake of pulling out of the 2015 deal was that it freed Iran from constant IAEA scrutiny at Natanz, Karaj and other facilities.

Where can Israel make the new potential deal better if Zeevi-Farkash already expects the Biden team to cave in on the issue of advanced centrifuges?

He said that there must be better IAEA supervision of Iran’s weapons groups relating to nuclear weapons.

Noting that “all of the discussions are always about the uranium enrichment issue,” he warned that if Iran is already at the uranium enrichment threshold, “the talks must make sure the weapons group and ballistic missiles development are monitored.”

“It will be hard to be calm if there is no monitoring on all three issues,” he said.

He said he was uncertain whether the US will succeed in getting Iran to stop advanced centrifuge research underground. This is significant since it is potentially harder to strike underground facilities.

Regarding uranium metal, he believes the US has convinced Tehran to stop production as part of a new deal.

Alongside the above views, Zeevi-Farkash emphasized that Jerusalem’s “covert battle needs to keep going” against Iran’s nuclear program and regional expansion.

He also advocated Israeli-US diplomacy to strengthen the Abraham Accords movement to balance Iranian diplomatic efforts to grow its influence with Sunni countries.

Former Mossad Iran desk official and current INSS fellow Sima Shine was even more pessimistic than Zeevi-Farkash.

She said that there might be a deal, but that at this point she believed there was a slightly higher chance that there would be no deal and that Iran would continue to advance its nuclear program.

“Iran’s positions are extremely tough and they have very vehement demands. I do not know if maybe the talks will immediately blow up or they might encounter issues in later rounds, but the US will not be able to meet [Iran’s current] demands.”

Some of these include removing sanctions before Iran returns to nuclear limits compliance, and a full removal of Trump-era sanctions, even those related to human rights and terrorism.

Like Zeevi-Farkash, Shine viewed the 2015 deal as having holes, but as better than the current situation.

A big question which the former Mossad official said should be focused on is, “Are the Iranians just dragging things out to have some meetings every now and then, and then they will issue unacceptable demands? What is their end game?”

She posed two possibilities: They think that by taking a tougher stance “maybe they will get better terms,” but overall, they still want a deal, or “they may have already decided there will be no deal, and they are dragging the game out to play the blame game later, while gradually moving closer to [the nuclear] threshold.”